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By Ashley Granger
From columnist Susan Parmelee: I have asked Ashley Granger to write this month’s column as a preview to our January Teen Toolbox panel presentation. The pressures on our teens continue to increase, and sadly, suicide is now the second leading cause of death for youth ages 11-24, second only to accidents. Fortunately, we have many dedicated teens, community members and professionals committed to changing this statistic.
In February of 2017, my business partner and I set out on a mission to help the youth in our community. We held an event at Aliso Niguel High School focusing on building emotional resilience in teens. Over 250 parents, educators, community members and teens showed up for the discussion—parents, faculty, community members and teens. Everyone wanted to figure out how to help these kids cope with their reality.
I will be honest, my assumption in the beginning of this adventure was that we, as adults, were putting too much pressure on these teens. I wasn’t completely wrong, but I was also far from right.
Five months ago, I established a free teen yoga class at a local yoga studio. Every Tuesday, teens stroll in, grab their journals and start writing. Each class focuses on a new topic having to do with mindfulness. We have created vision boards, set intentions and written letters to people who made us feel angry or hurt. We learned about the art of letting go of things and ideas that no longer serve us. We cry, we laugh, we share, we learn, we evolve. And the crazy thing is, they keep coming back! Every week they show up for themselves. They are learning to give themselves at least one hour a week to process and deal with what is happening in their lives.
One of the topics we keep returning to is pressure. The teens have shared they feel pressure from academics, social relationships, personal drives and parental expectations. One of the biggest misconceptions I have heard from parents is that they are proud of their teens if they perform to their best ability; however, the teens place immense pressure on themselves to get perfect grades because they feel that’s the only way they’ll get into college. In their mind, a top college is their only path to success. Often, they are comparing themselves to others they see on social media or peers at school.
As pressure increases, risky behaviors may become a coping mechanism, including experimentation with drugs and alcohol, changes in eating habits and behavior, possible suicidal thoughts, sleep problems, promiscuous behaviors, isolation, anxiety and depression. So, what do we do about it? We work to be a stronger community of support for our teens.
A question I am asked when working with families and teens is “What’s the fastest, most effective way I can help my teen?” My answer is always the same. Practice what you preach! If we want to see our teens be kinder to themselves, develop healthier coping skills and be capable of communicating, we must be their teachers and role models. Showing teens that feeling and expressing our emotions (not just happiness) is okay. Another powerful concept is understanding the power of vulnerability. Being real and raw and not feeling the need to be protected in all we do is so empowering. It is much easier to operate in a world where we are our most authentic selves without the worry of people’s ideas about who they think we should be.
Pressure is an inevitable part of life that we cannot avoid or change. However, how we choose to handle it needs to be healthy and effective. If we develop coping skills, we create a better understanding of the effects stress has on us, and we can develop healthy habits.
Editor’s note: “Teel Toolbox—Under Pressure” takes place 6:45-8:30 p.m. on Jan. 14 at San Clemente High School, 700 Avenida Pico.